LeDaveed's Andrew Dale, a Bay Street executive turned fashion entrepreneur, inspires professionals to carry with purpose – locally crafting classic leather bags using premium full-grain leather.
The last time I was a guest on a blog, my life was a lot different.
I was a Partner at an investment firm called Acasta Capital, and was invited to write a piece on condominium investment in Toronto for a cool fintech company, Wealthsimple. Housing in Toronto was a hot topic then, and perhaps it’s even hotter now.
The piece ended up generating a lot of interest, and I was invited to do a prime-time radio segment to discuss it further. The congratulatory notes rolled in – about how my career was taking off, and even that I had it made.
Less than 6 months later, I quit my job.
My colleagues on the Street (finance slang for Bay Street or Wall Street) were stunned.
“You must have something even better up your sleeve.”
“Nobody leaves a job like that without something lined up.”
Little did they know: the only thing I had lined up was soul-searching.
I did a lot of meditation and reflection – not on jobs, but on values. On how to live my values, embody them in my job, and use business as a tool for empowerment.
In that state of contemplation, I tapped into the creative side I had suppressed as a financier. The side that had a serious flare for arts and crafts as a kid.
I started thinking about this idea in fashion. The theme was “traveling through life” – whether it was different facets of your life (things that function for work and play) but also different generations of your life (things that last a really long time).
My journey caught the attention of the Ryerson DMZ Incubator’s Fashion Zone. They provided me with an array of prominent advisors and space to work on the idea.
Last July, in a Facebook post, I summarized my journey and told people I was going for it. The main thing that I told them is that the business is evolving, but that its core values - empowering people, respecting the planet, and being honest – won’t.
I told people that in the vein of “traveling through life,” I was inviting people to travel through life with me – to witness and contribute to a fashion company unfolding from scratch. I told them not all of it would be pretty – and that certainly has been true. Keeping with the travel metaphor, I was starting with a small line of bags – a slim briefcase bag and a travelers’ duffle.
I hit the Post button on Facebook and let it ride.
I was proud to put a stake in the ground on my values – too often on the Street, values are manipulated or compromised. LeDaveed’s values pre-date the company itself.
I thought my closest friends would be happy for me. But what happened was beyond my wildest expectations. The post went viral.
I started getting messages from people I hadn’t kept in touch with, in some cases for 8 to 10 years, and in some cases, people I’d never met.
They were inspired.
Immediately, the introductions started. Dozens of them.
First, to the CEO of a fast-growing fashion startup in New York.
Then, to an investor who already wanted to meet (I told him it was too early).
And then, to my first colleague. Shira was previously at Marc Jacobs NY and two prominent Canadian brands, in bag development and buying her whole career. She has a great eye for detailed design and knack for commercialization. She was introduced to me by a guy I had done an academic exchange with in Hong Kong, 9 years ago, and hadn’t kept in touch with. He was inspired to introduce me to her, and Shira was inspired by the mission, and joined me. I wasn’t looking for anyone, and she wasn’t looking for a job. It was a perfect fit.
At first, Shira laughed me out of the room when I challenged her to build a supply chain that allowed for high-quality local manufacturing of bags, with premium materials, at a price that would allow the business to sustain itself.
We kept hitting walls.
People wouldn’t take us seriously. People questioned whether we could meet their minimum orders, how we’d ever make money with such premium quality and such affordable prices, and why we wouldn’t just make things in China. In China, someone even offered to lie for us to put a “socially responsible” stamp of approval on our products. People warned us against our transparency, and about disclosing our “trade secrets.”
But we’d made our followers – and ourselves – a promise. And we weren’t about to break it.
It was like the universe was testing us – and giving us an easy way out if we wanted it. But we pushed back. And then, funny things started happening.
After months of silence, a 125-year-old German leather tannery we’d been hounding, Heinen Leather, called me. They are not only renowned for their leather craftsmanship, winning countless awards for their knowledge of the craft and their technology, but are the world leader in socially responsible leather.
They grilled me. On my background. On our business plan. On our legitimacy.
I decided I had to fly over there to see them. In startup mode, I boarded an awful flight through Iceland, to Frankfurt, on a packed WowAir plane, and took 3 connecting trains deep into the German countryside. A gruelling 15 hour journey.
Tapping into my skill set from my finance days, I managed to sit the fourth-generation CEO down and pitch him on LeDaveed. He was floored.
Then I did something gutsy. I asked him if he’d grant us exclusivity in North America.
“Why would you leave banking to do this?” he asked.
“To embody my values,” I responded. I want to inspire people to Carry with Purpose.
That clinched it. That there was no mention of money – either in our mission statement or my response to him.
Then we invented a new full-grain leather with Heinen – it’s called Nixburg Null. I could write a whole separate post about it – its beauty, durability, and responsibility. We’ve harnessed their proprietary technology and worked closely with their expert technicians on it.
Success started to bring success. The factory came next. Again, it was integrity, not dollars that won the day. A local manufacturer who has been making leather bags for high end brands and celebrities by hand for decades had worked with Shira before. He appreciated her warmth and honesty. I met him and he told me he trusted me, and was impressed at my desire to sleep in an unheated 1800s-era German inn with no heat to work with the tannery. I told him it was about the mission.
Then we announced our B Corp Pending status. Our commitment to quality and integrity at such an early stage earned us a certification reserved only for the most progressive startups.
The side benefit of our values is that our social media posts gain thousands of organic impressions each time. That means we have a constant feedback loop on product design, materials, colors, and styles. But my favorite comments are related to our deeper purpose.
From a friend at strategy firm McKinsey: LeDaveed is “a lesson for any product-creating company in how to go from concept to production in an innovative, thoughtful, and exciting way without sacrificing quality, execution speed or ethics.”
From a business school colleague: “Andrew, I know we haven't talked since University but I've been keeping up with your posts and want to say congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment. So proud of you. I truly wish you success and can't wait to see everything come to life!”
And finally, from a member of our community, my favorite: “Andrew, you’re an inspiration.”
So now, instead of taking the usual fashion approach – working mostly in secret, launching out of the blue, and saying “ta-da” with sexy models and a fancy launch party, we have an embedded community that totals thousands. We have pre-orders, and think we’ll sell out of our first run quickly.
The product is beautiful. See for yourself below.
But what won the day wasn’t the product – it's that we’re inspiring others to Carry with Purpose.
Nothing beats a story that truly inspires, and has purpose behind it – something which LeDaveed, a new e-commerce fashion company, clearly has. I am excited to see the Nixburg Null leather on the finished products. Classic leather bags that are timeless age incredibly gracefully - I'm tempted to pick one up for myself from LeDaveed.
Andrew Dale is the Founder of LeDaveed. He was formerly one of the youngest senior finance executives in Canada, and is also a frequent speaker on LGBT issues in Toronto.